Bishop emeritus

Sunday TV Mass Homily 02/02/2020

Today we celebrate the Presentation of the Lord when Mary and Joseph took Jesus to the Temple to present him to God as was the custom, tradition and the obligation of the religious law. It is a beautiful gesture of recognition that children are gifts from God. That is an important reminder as we face the attacks on life in what Pope Francis has called our ‘throwaway’ culture and that this child, the Christ child, is a unique gift from God becoming man for a purpose – our redemption.
This is also World Day of Prayer for Consecrated Life, recognizing the beauty of the religious who by vows of poverty, chastity and obedience have dedicated their lives to serving the Christ child. With grateful hearts let us pray for, remember and honor the women and men who have consecrated their lives to Christ through his Church. Many consecrated religious renew those vows on this feast of the Presentation of the Lord… They are part of the rich legacy of our diocese and of the universal Church. In a way all of us can follow their example. Among the many ways to do so is to consecrate our lives to Mary and to Joseph who consecrated themselves to Jesus. There a several prayer forms available in which to do so which I encourage you to explore.
Some have called the Presentation of the Lord as the feast of longing, longing for the coming of the one promised in the first reading from Malachi. The fulfillment of that promise is reflected in two elderly persons, Simeon and Anna who are elated at the sight of the baby Jesus after waiting so long.
Some have wondered why God chose to have Jesus come as a baby, a child.
I recall the remembrance of elderly Mrs. Harris who woke up from sleep in the morning a bit down. Her feet ached and walking was a chore. When she got to the kitchen she was worn out. Then suddenly she heard her grandchildren running down the stairs full of energy, noise and talk. As they joined her she perked up and forgot her aches and pains and was uplifted as only a grandmother can be. Earlier this week I celebrated Catholic Schools Week masses and this old man perked up and forgot my aches and pains. Children are gifts from God and they lift spirits.
Simeon is described a righteous and devout man waiting for the consolation of Israel all his life which he immediately recognized in the Christ child. One scripture scholar suggests that the reaction of Simeon is a summary of the work and fate of Jesus. He will be the fall of many – those who are ambivalent or reject God. He will also be the rise of many – those who recognize Jesus as savior will be lifted up with hope. Jesus can lift us up with hope despite our aches and pains if we allow him to do so. As this scholar put it: ‘we either surrender to him or are at war with him.’ And it is a tragedy of life that our pride often keeps us from making that surrender that leads to victory’. (Barclay) As another scholar put, ‘in the sunset of his own life he encountered the sunrise of the world.’ And so can we if like Simeon we wait in eager anticipation trusting in God’s will and God’s way, and accepting God’s timetable.
Simeon also foretold the important role of the Blessed Mother: ‘you yourself a sword will pierce’. While we just recalled the beautiful scene of Mary in Bethlehem soon we will remember the somber scene of Mary at the foot of the cross, so powerfully depicted in the Pieta off to my right. Mary is always ready to pray for us and intervene for us in our days of sorrow.
Also present in the Temple was Anna. She was a widow and therefore surely had experienced loss and likely sorrow yet she was not discouraged or embittered. Though 84 she remained hopeful. How did she remain hopeful – by worshipping regularly, fasting and constantly praying. That is the formula for us as well. We can move through the hurts of life, our sorrows, our crosses by developing a personal relationship with Christ, by coming to Mass regularly, by acts of penance and by praying every day a least a bit. It can be as simple as, Jesus I love you.
As someone has written: “Both Simeon and Anna illustrate that waiting involves action and contemplative listening. They both went to a place, the Temple, where their faith finds its home. As someone else has written: ‘They were not simply in the right place at the right time, they were in the right space spiritually and recognized the time of God’s action.’ Being in the right space spiritually makes all the difference.
One writer remembered being in church with a little boy nearby who was turning around and smiling at others. He was not disruptive in any way, just smiling. Suddenly his mother jerked him around and in a voice easily heard said to him ‘Stop that grinning. You’re in church’ and slapped him so that tears came to his eyes and then said, ‘that’s better.’ ‘Suddenly I was angry,’ she wrote. ‘It occurred to me the entire world is in tears, and if you’re not, then you better get with it. I wanted to grab this child with the tear-stained face close to me and tell him about my God, the happy God, the smiling God, the God who had a sense of humor to have created the likes of us.
“I wanted to tell him that our God is an understanding God, who understands little children who turn around and smile in church. . . . What a fool, I thought, this woman sitting next to the only sign of hope – the only miracle – left in our civilization. If that child couldn’t smile in church, where was their left to go?’ (Bombeck)
Simeon and Anna, children of God, smiled when the saw the baby Jesus, and so can we.